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ACLU Challenges FBI Information Gathering;
Files Suit on Behalf of J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 27, 1990
Challenging the FBI's improper maintenance of files detailing
protected First Amendment activities, the American Civil
Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in federal District Court
in the District of Columbia on behalf of the J. Roderick
MacArthur Foundation and its President, Lance Lindblom.
The lawsuit charges that the FBI has illegally kept files on
the First Amendment activities of Lindblom and the Foundation,
which makes grants to other charitable organizations to further
human rights, civil liberties and social justice. The 14-year-
old, Chicago-area foundation also supports efforts around the
world to protect freedom of expression.
The ACLU's lawsuit contends that the FBI's maintenance of files
is unlawful under both the U.S. Constitution and the Privacy Act,
a federal law enacted in 1974 that prohibits maintenance of
government files on First Amendment activities except in limited
circumstances. The suit also asks that the FBI be forced to
release portions of its files on the Foundation's and Lindblom's
activities that it has refused to disclose and that it then be
required to destroy the files.
"The FBI has no right to keep tabs on American citizens based
on their exercise of First Amendment freedoms," said Kate Martin,
the Director of the ACLU's National Security Litigation Project.
"The maintenance of files on the Foundation and Lindbloom appears
to be another in a long history of such improper FBI activity,
from the monitoring of the civil rights and antiwar movements in
the 1960s and the 1970s to the recent illegal surveillance of the
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)."
Martin explained that the Foundation supports organizations
that endorse causes that were at the time or are now contrary to
official United States policy. It is apparently for this reason,
she said, that the FBI has gathered information on Lindblom and
"The FBI's activities betray an alarming hostility to
democratic principles," Martin said. "The notion that the FBI can
maintain files on people solely on the basis of their association
of others has no place in a free society."
In 1988, Lindblom and the Foundation filed a Freedom of
Information Act request with the FBI, seeking copies of all
documents about them. Although the FBI has released some of the
documents, almost all of them were heavily censored.
The ACLU suit contends that the FBI's illegal maintenance of
material has a "chilling effect" on Lindblom and the Foundation.
"It is important to the work of the Foundation and to Lindblom's
work as President of the Foundation that both be free of FBI
surveillance and the maintenance of an intelligence file," the
In commenting on the suit, Lindblom noted the irony of the FBI
maintaining files on the Foundation when the group has funded
activities to promote freedom of expression throughout the world,
including in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and China.
"As an American who works for human rights around the world, I
am outraged that my country engages in such insidious police
state tactics of keeping secret files on law-abiding
organizations and people," Lindblom said. "With the Cold War
over, countries around the globe are embracing the principles of
free speech and freedom of association and are dismantling their
repressive internal security systems.
"Although our government has applauded these developments, the
FBI's actions in this case demonstrate that our own government
refuses to actually implement its rhetorical policies at home,"
Lindblom said, adding that it is important that the FBI
acknowledge that keeping files on constitutionally protected
activities is wrong.